Angry teachers at Glenwood and Laurin schools will have to wait to find out how the district will address overcrowding in several schools
BATTLE GROUND — The fallout of the most recent building bond defeat for Battle Ground schools will have to wait for next year.
At a meeting this week, the school board went along with the recommendation of Superintendent Mark Ross to spend more time investigating solutions to overcrowding problems at schools in the southern part of the district.
Ross said he wanted to put together a committee made up of district staff, parents, and teachers.
“I’m hearing the concerns of Laurin, I’m hearing the concerns of people in the community who would like more involvement in this process,” Ross said.
At a board meeting before the latest vote on the bond measure, Ross had told the board they should be prepared to explore shifting boundaries within the district. The goal would be to move students from overcrowded schools like Glenwood-Laurin and Pleasant Valley to places like Tukes Valley and Daybreak farther north, where there is more room.
“With those options we did not really provide our community and our parents with the opportunity to provide input,” Ross said, “and even perhaps look at some other options besides the change of boundary.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting a group of Glenwood teachers took turns addressing concerns with how the school is being operated. The student population for the Glenwood-Laurin campus is now over 1,500, in facilities designed to max out at around 1,100 kids.
“Next year when we add in portables, we will have seven year olds, second graders, walking across our campus unsupervised with gates that are not locked,” said Amy Durr, a fourth grade teacher at Glenwood. Another parent and substitute teacher added, “Please don’t tell any shooters that our doors are unlocked at Glenwood Middle School.”
“One of our concerns is about keeping good staff,” Karen Cassler, a second grade teacher, told the Board. “We’ve had about fifty percent turnover in the last two years for a variety of reasons. I’ve already heard four people who are planning on leaving Glenwood because it’s an impossible place to work well.”
Cassler added that staff at the school feel as if they’re bearing the burden of dysfunction going on at the district office.
“This is difficult,” Ross said, “because I’m hearing the concerns of the Glenwood staff. And I am only hearing the concerns of the Glenwood staff if, and I want to state ‘if’, the decision of the board was to immediately move this Fall with boundary changes. It would affect more than just the Glenwood staff, as most of those options are affecting teachers and students from several of our schools.”
“This is about our third year of being told to hold on for one more year,” said Lesli Collum, a special education instructor at Glenwood. “The public has spoken and voted down our bond several times. We are all for it, and we know you guys are too, but we can’t pass it and neither can you. So what are we going to do now?”
“I wish I had a magic wand,” said board member Mavis Nickles, whose district includes Glenwood-Laurin, “and could wave that wand to address my school at Glenwood, my school at Laurin, and the schools in the other parts of the district. Because whatever we decide affects so many more.”
It’s that fallout effect at schools elsewhere in the district that Ross said he wants the committee to spend more time exploring. The goal would be to have them come back by next November with several recommendations about what the options might be.
In the meantime, Ross said he wants to explore adding another administrator to be shared between the Glenwood and Laurin schools, possibly add more classified support staff and, budget permitting, another security person for the campus. Those proposals drew a few hisses and a lot of head shakes from the Glenwood teachers in attendance.
Ross Guthrie, a parent with two students each at Glenwood and Laurin urged both patience, and an exploration of other options to deal with overcrowding issues at the schools before next school year.
“Just because we had instruction in the hallway this year doesn’t mean we have to do that next year,” he said. “Just because we had elementary students adjacent to Laurin doesn’t mean that has to be the state going forward. With all the construction going on, we have impact fees available for just this thing, to upgrade our facilities and accommodate new students, and I’m confident that we would be able to reach a good solution to alleviate some of the crowding.”
Board president Ken Root struck a conciliatory note with the teachers in attendance, “I know this is the third year in a row you guys have been told this is gonna happen,” he said, drawing a few shouted responses like, “yes, and we’re tired of it”, and “we’re the half that didn’t leave.” “But if we were to make a choice today,” Root continued, “we’re not prepared, to be honest.”
The night also included a lot of angry testimony about the recent decision to eliminate the choir program at Chief Umtuch Middle School, and comments about a lack of transparency over that controversial move. That seemed to prompt the board to emphasize that a delay in dealing with the issues the defeat of the building bond presented was necessary, to make sure the public had ample time to weigh in.
“The goal here would be to have collaboration with parents, community, and staff, using different communication methods,” said Ross. “And, also we would want to make sure that, as we finish the process, that people are comfortable with those and where they’re going.”